The best organized crime books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about organized crime and why they recommend each book.

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The Valachi Papers

By Peter Maas,

Book cover of The Valachi Papers

This book, published in 1968, is based on the prison memoirs of Joe Valachi, a mob button who was the first made man to rat out the Genovese crime family. Valachi’s testimony before a U.S. Senate committee created a sensation. He revealed publicly, and for the first time, the Italian mob’s structure, rituals, membership, and business practices.

What struck me on reading this book was how inept the mob was in its criminal enterprises. Their success was based solely on their willingness to kill whoever got in their way. For bozos who didn’t pay, it was two in the heart and one in the head. Account closed!


Who am I?

I write books and newspaper columns on criminal justice and criminal defense. As an investigator for criminal defense attorneys, I spent years in the jails and prisons of Florida and Georgia interviewing felony defendants—murderers, child molesters, con men, robbers, drug dealers, whores, wife beaters, and shooters for hire. Some were insane; most weren’t. My interest is personal as well as professional. I live in Police Zone 1, the most dangerous area of my city. It’s a place where kids and church ladies can distinguish a Chinese AK from a Glock nine by sound alone. It’s a place where I carry an extra-large can of pepper spray and a combat knife, just to walk the dog!


My newsletter is...

Crime City

I run Crime City, a newsletter on Substack that is a series of columns about crime, cops, and criminal justice. And, what is going on in the mean streets of America. Crime City is about criminal justice, or the lack thereof, as it actually happens, not as it appears in the polemics of pundits and politicians or as enumerated by the mad quants of the Department of Justice Bureau of Criminal Statistics in their West Virginia fortress.

Breathe With Me

By Michelle B,

Book cover of Breathe With Me

This is book one in a trilogy of heartbreak and redemption. The tears I cried for the couple as they fought life and each other were real. They were brought to their knees forced to face the consequences of their actions and forced to recognize their love for each other was never going to be easy. From the first chapter, I was driven into a universe that made me feel real pain and heartbreak, but more than that, real love.  Love that was unconditional and unfathomable. It takes a lot to get there, but their HEA was well worth the struggle.


Who am I?

I am a deeply emotional person although I hide it well. I feel things on a level not everyone understands. I am also a romantic. Because of that, I have always been drawn to romance books, even as a child, but more than that, I am drawn to romance that makes me feel. I want to feel the heartbreak and live through the struggles of love. Real love isn’t pretty and neat. It is messy and raw and vulnerable. I want to experience the gut-clenching, heart-racing emotions with every page and every word. It’s what keeps me turning the pages wanting more.


I wrote...

Break Me Down (Sons of Sin Book 4)

By Nola Marie,

Book cover of Break Me Down (Sons of Sin Book 4)

What is my book about?

Sons of Sin’s lead guitarist loves being the “sin” in their name. Because without Heaven, he’d rather fast-track to hell and rage.

Except for that one moment – a brief year in my life where I experienced Heaven. But I crashed and burned as hard as Lucifer himself when she destroyed me. He was my one. Until I learned something that shattered my heart. And now, in a cruel twist, the universe has thrown us back together. Shattered and gutted, how do two people heal when apologies don’t fix the damage, and the truth comes out years too late?

Gangs

By Tony Thompson,

Book cover of Gangs: A Journey into the Heart of the British Underworld

I live in London, one of the most developed and “civilised” cities in the world but I’ve always been fascinated by what lies beneath its respectable surface and what currents are agitating it from below. This is a startling and eye-opening tour of the UK’s rich criminal underbelly and the surprising and surreptitious ways crime groups can cheat the system. It’s also a shocking insight into the lengths to which criminal gangs are prepared to go to avoid being caught. I’ve not been able to look at my home city in the same way ever since.

Who am I?

I’m a filmmaker and writer who made a TV series about street gangs around the world with actor and presenter Ross Kemp. But it was one London street gang, the PDC, that particularly caught my attention. The newspaper reports were full of overblown headlines, terrifying statistics, and quotes from police forces. That’s when I decided to head down to the PDC’s “turf” in a small corner of south London because if you are going to try and tackle this crimewave it’s best to find out who is doing it and why. Right? I spoke to PDC gang members, their friends and families and the surprising truth behind the headlines is revealed in my book.


I wrote...

Street Boys: 7 Kids. 1 Estate. No Way Out. The True Story of a Lost Childhood

By Tim Pritchard,

Book cover of Street Boys: 7 Kids. 1 Estate. No Way Out. The True Story of a Lost Childhood

What is my book about?

It’s the story of 7 young boys who are members of a notorious and feared London street gang. To some, they are glamorous, gun-toting “gangstas” with a bling-bling lifestyle. To others, they are a group of criminalised thugs who pose a danger to society. This may turn you on or put you off. But stay with it. Things may not be what they seem. 

Wise Guy

By Nicholas Pileggi,

Book cover of Wise Guy

This book takes you on Henry Hill’s journey from a streetwise kid to a major mob player. Along the way it hits all the highs and lows without pulling punches. It doesn’t get bogged down in excess rituals found in The Godfather. It lets the reader have it straight, no chaser.


Who am I?

I’ve worked both in politics and as an investigative reporter in print and broadcasting in Chicago, Miami, Key West, San Francisco, and Honolulu. I’ve had an up-close look at how the system doesn’t work and how the wise guys get their share. I find it easy to use fiction to get to the truth.


I wrote...

Disappearing Act: A Las Vegas Love Story, Sort of...

By Ray Pace,

Book cover of Disappearing Act: A Las Vegas Love Story, Sort of...

What is my book about?

A Las Vegas magician disappears, two million bucks are missing, Chicago wants its money. What does any of this have to do with Area 51? Or Roswell? Can two wise guys, a hooker and a lesbian softball team save the day?

Prizzis Honor

By Richard Condon,

Book cover of Prizzis Honor

Charley is a member of the Prizzi crime family, an underboss and top hitter, whose just done the family a good turn by killing a traitor who stole three-quarters of a million dollars from the family. That's nothing new for Charley, just a day's work, but he discovers, first, that his new girlfriend was the dead man's wife, and second, that she's a contract killer for the mob and has just taken a contract out on him

Richard Condon is notable for his satire novels, particularly The Manchurian Candidate which Hollywood stripped of its humor, both political and crime, but always focusing on greed and corruption, both political and moral. This humorous novel about a mob hitman is one of my favorites because it gives us something to laugh about when, really, there's not usually anything funny about murder and violence. The novel treats a heavy subject cheerfully, with…


Who am I?

I both read and write a lot of crime fiction, but organized crime is an aspect that I find fascinating. More than gangs of criminals, less than families, but still somehow very similar… I did a lot of research on real organized crime and re-read some of my favorite fiction pieces when I first had the idea for this novel and along the way, I realized that family is what you make of it and these people—and these characters—are yearning for a place to belong – something that really speaks to me, and has made me a fan of this kind of fiction.


I wrote...

Burn Me Out

By Brandon Barrows,

Book cover of Burn Me Out

What is my book about?

Al Vacarro is a made man, with all the honors and responsibilities that entails. But after a literal lifetime of violence in service to the Castella crime family, Al’s past is catching up with him and neither his present nor any future he can imagine seems to hold any hope for salvation.

For the sake of his family and his very soul, he needs out of “the life.” But how does a man escape the only world he’s ever known? This is a story of blood and desperation, and these are the last twenty-four hours of life as Al knows it.

The Big Clock

By Kenneth Fearing,

Book cover of The Big Clock

When news editor Earl Janoth murders his mistress, there's only one witness who can tie him to the crime scene. Janoth doesn't know who the witness is, but he knows everywhere the man went in the 24 hours before the murder, because the murder victim told him before he killed her.

Janoth is determined to find and silence him. He assigns reporter George Stroud to track the man down, not knowing that Stroud himself is the man he's looking for. Stroud is forced to assemble a team to hunt himself, knowing that when he's found, he'll be killed.

This is the best-plotted book I've ever read, both in concept and execution. Little details sprinkled through early chapters of the book keep coming back to have major significance as the noose tightens around Stroud.


Who am I?

In college, I studied Literature with a capital L: those timeless classics the professors worship and revere. Then a woman in a used book store in Seattle handed me a copy of Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280 and said, "Read this." I was hooked. The pulp fiction of the 1950s is visceral and raw. Like Greek tragedy, it examines the darker drives of human nature--greed, lust, loneliness, anger--and their consequences. Pulp writers were paid by the word to crank out lurid thrills. But like Shakespeare writing for the groundlings, some of them just couldn't help going above and beyond. Their work remains in print because it hits on universal truths that still resonate today.


I wrote...

To Hell with Johnny Manic

By Andrew Diamond,

Book cover of To Hell with Johnny Manic

What is my book about?

John Manis, aka Johnny Manic, isn't who he says he is. He seems to get richer as the people close to him disappear, but he's beginning to learn that money can't ease the burden of his dark secret. Marilyn Dupree, passionate and volatile, wants out of a bad marriage to a wealthy man with secrets of his own. In Johnny, she recognizes what she's been looking for. They have a chemistry like nitrogen and glycerin.

Detective Lou Eisenfall just wants to keep the peace in his rich, idyllic town. He can't tell who's playing whom in this unlikely triangle, but his intuition tells him it isn't going to end well. This dark tale of deception and murder is "a feverishly readable psychological noir." Kirkus Reviews

The Godfather

By Mario Puzo,

Book cover of The Godfather

The classic, quintessential Mafia novel – and with good reason. The first in a trilogy about Corleone crime family, it features a romanticized look at organized crime but is notable both for the sweeping scope of the story, as well as the fact that it introduced mainstream America to such now-familiar words as caporegimeCosa Nostra, and omerta.

While not especially realistic compared to some works, I enjoyed that The Godfather is a crime fiction reader's power fantasy dream – there are only bad guys here, so there are no consequences for anything that happens to them. And because of that, Puzo does a lot of terrible things and we, the readers, cheer all along the way.


Who am I?

I both read and write a lot of crime fiction, but organized crime is an aspect that I find fascinating. More than gangs of criminals, less than families, but still somehow very similar… I did a lot of research on real organized crime and re-read some of my favorite fiction pieces when I first had the idea for this novel and along the way, I realized that family is what you make of it and these people—and these characters—are yearning for a place to belong – something that really speaks to me, and has made me a fan of this kind of fiction.


I wrote...

Burn Me Out

By Brandon Barrows,

Book cover of Burn Me Out

What is my book about?

Al Vacarro is a made man, with all the honors and responsibilities that entails. But after a literal lifetime of violence in service to the Castella crime family, Al’s past is catching up with him and neither his present nor any future he can imagine seems to hold any hope for salvation.

For the sake of his family and his very soul, he needs out of “the life.” But how does a man escape the only world he’s ever known? This is a story of blood and desperation, and these are the last twenty-four hours of life as Al knows it.

Pariah

By Dave Zeltserman,

Book cover of Pariah

The author plays a clever trick on us to get us to identify with the villain in this book. It’s effective and horrifying, and results, in large part, in our seeing the world through a monster’s self-serving eyes. It’s not a pretty picture, but there’s no escape for his unfortunate victims, or for us. He reminds me of Bridget in the movie The Last Seduction, in the way some predators seem like a completely different species from us, their prey, while we assume they’re human, just like us. This is noir, only with an homme fatale (and a bit of publishing industry satire thrown in).


Who am I?

If only they made good guys as complicated and fascinating as the baddies, maybe I wouldn’t be so drawn to the dark side. I mean, I liked Luke, and Leia, and Han, and I even wanted them to win, but Darth Vader—now, that was an interesting dude. Perhaps because they do and are what most of us can’t and aren’t, these antagonists benefit from writers who, consciously or not, do their best work when they create singular villains. What makes the “bad guy” tick? Is it circumstances, or choices? Are they someone you cannot even imagine being, or someone you can? And what does that say about us?


I wrote...

Break Her

By B.G. Harlen,

Book cover of Break Her

What is my book about?

"The moment she woke up, her nightmare began..." What would you do if you awakened to find a dangerous stranger in your house? In your bed, next to you? Now your home has become your prison, and your body, a battlefield. How would you hold onto your sanity, your self-esteem, your very soul against someone determined to annihilate all three?

In the psychological thriller Break Her, one woman will find herself in this almost unthinkable situation, and one man will discover that he has finally come up against someone unlike any of those he has destroyed before.

Beat the Reaper

By Josh Bazell,

Book cover of Beat the Reaper

Easily my favorite book ever—one I’ve read or listened to five times—Reaper is a fictional imagining of the double-life of a medical resident at a fictional New York hospital. It is entirely convincing, since Bazell was actually a medical resident (at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center) when he wrote it. Don’t ask me how a resident finds the time to write, but boy did he knock this one out of the park! Reaper is the story of Peter Brnwa (Brown), son of Jewish/Polish war victims, who becomes a mob hitman after being informally adopted by his best friend's mafioso family. Peter’s intent is to avenge the murders of the grandparents who raised him. When he decides to get out of the business, he’s enrolled in the witness protection program and, simultaneously, med school. Of course, the mob discovers him there, and the results are hysterical as…


Who am I?

“Write what you know.” Every writer knows this. I have done that; first, in a novella, Losing Addison, which I recently made into a psychological thriller featuring Sherilyn Fenn (release date: June 28, 2022). The story is based on a nightmare I had in 2011. In addition, I have written two novels, By A Thread and The Falls, both of which involve Mormon missionaries caught up in events that test their integrity, forcing them to make difficult choices as said missionaries discover same-sex attractions more deeply rooted than they—and their superiors—would like to admit.


I wrote...

By a Thread

By Marty Beaudet,

Book cover of By a Thread

What is my book about?

"The time will come when the Constitution and the Government will hang by a thread and will be ready to fall...but this people, the Latter-Day Saints, will step forth and save it."

Thus prophesied the founding prophet of the Mormon Church. Is this prophecy on the verge of being fulfilled? Some adherents to the faith within the U.S. government think so. But what role will 21-year-old missionary Kevin "Red" Davis play when the CIA approaches him? What choices will he make when his faith, his patriotism, and his personal integrity come into conflict? Unfolding on the streets of Vienna, Munich, Washington, D.C., and in the confines of a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, By A Thread is a tale of truth, trust, and betrayal.

Twisted Pretty Things

By Ariana Nash,

Book cover of Twisted Pretty Things

I love m/m romance and I love urban fantasy, but until now, that combination hadn’t grabbed me in a way that had me sit up in excitement. I tore through this series (currently and desperately awaiting the final book). Not only does Nash devise a fun and fascinating magic system with Dom’s playing cards, I shipped Dom and Kempthorne so hard. The obstacles they must overcome, both externally and with their inner demons, had me turning pages as fast as I could. It’s an absolute delight.


Who am I?

I was an avid reader growing up, but I never saw myself reflected unless it was a book about the Holocaust. Those are crucial stories to tell, but I wanted a Jewish girl going through a wardrobe to a secret land or having magical adventures. So, I decided to write those stories for women and combine them with steamy romance, because I love that, too. All my main characters are Jewish, and I draw from Judaism and Jewish folklore for my worldbuilding and magic systems. It's also important for me to showcase my diverse hometown of Vancouver. To that end, my characters are of varying ethnicities and sexual identities.


I wrote...

Blood & Ash: A Snarky Urban Fantasy Detective Series

By Deborah Wilde,

Book cover of Blood & Ash: A Snarky Urban Fantasy Detective Series

What is my book about?

When Ash is hit during a stakeout, she discovers a mysterious tattoo on the back of her skull—a now-broken ward unleashing dangerous magic that she shouldn’t possess. Her unruly powers nearly kill her long-time nemesis, Levi, the uptight leader of the magic community. One word from him revealing her forbidden abilities, and everything she’s built will be taken from her… by force. The only bright spot is that Levi requires her supernatural skills to solve a case. After years of being underestimated by him, it’s Ash’s chance at payback and she’s going to enjoy bringing him to his knees—or stuffing him in a body bag.

Crackling with suspense, this magic detective series features an enemies-to-lovers romance and a snarky heroine solving thrilling mysteries.

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